The Muscogee Nation has issued a rebuttal to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s latest comments against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last July in McGirt v. Oklahoma.
At a Tulsa Chamber event Thursday, Stitt said the ruling that Oklahoma for more than a century wrongly asserted criminal jurisdiction over tribal citizens on tribal lands "remains a threat" to the state and is the most pressing issue for Oklahoma.
"That ruling creates uncertainty in our state. It threatens Oklahoma's sovereignty and creates a public safety nightmare for victims and law enforcement," Stitt said during a speech to Tulsa-area business leaders.
In a statement, the Muscogee Nation called that claim "the most harmful lie" about McGirt, noting all crimes in Oklahoma fall under local, state, federal or tribal jurisdiction. The man behind the McGirt case, Jimcy McGirt, was sentenced in federal court this week. Muscogee Nation said that shows justice is being served in the appropriate venues.
Muscogee Nation Press Secretary Jason Salsman said the state’s actual most pressing issue is one Stitt did not directly address in his speech to area business leaders.
"We wholeheartedly believe that all of our focus should be on the COVID-19 pandemic first and foremost because ... it's raging, cases are going up, it's a very, very serious situation here in Oklahoma, and it has been for us as a tribe," Salsman said.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. agreed with the Muscogee Nation, tweeting Thursday, "The state’s most pressing issue is COVID & the absurd barrier to schools keeping kids safe from it. I’d rather the energy expended to wreck tribal sovereignty used instead to protecting kids & teachers from COVID."
Stitt on Thursday described scenarios where he claimed prosecutions — and maybe even arrests — would not happen, including a person with Native heritage having their car stolen in Tulsa. The Muscogee Nation said that is false. Lighthorse Police have agreements with most law enforcement agencies within the nation’s boundaries, including Tulsa Police, that allow them to pursue and arrest anyone.
Stitt on Thursday also repeated a misleading claim about other impacts of McGirt.
"Right now, there are thousands of Oklahomans with native heritage who are filing their taxes and checking a box alleging that they don't live in the state of Oklahoma to avoid paying state income tax," Stitt said.
McGirt does not address civil issues. While around 3,000 Native Americans in the state file for tax exemptions because they live and work on tribal land, they’ve done so for years.
Stitt also reiterated his goal of getting McGirt v. Oklahoma overturned. Attorney General John O’Connor, who Stitt appointed last month, recently filed a brief in another Indian Country case before the high court asking them to do that.
"And let me be clear, when we say overturn the McGirt ruling, what we are seeking is the complete restoration of Oklahoma's sovereignty, the way we've all known it for the past 114 years," Stitt said.
Salsman said allowing the state to again prosecute Native Americans is not the only problem with what Stitt is advocating.
"First off, they were illegal for 100-plus years, but also, not even the legal aspect. 'Let's just go back to the way things were done,' when he's talking about going back to Natives couldn't vote, women couldn't. There's so many things that are wrong with that statement, to go back to then," Salsman said.
Salsman said despite Stitt’s claims and stance on McGirt, an invitation to work with the tribe to solve issues of common concern remains open.
"What we have is a governor that doesn't seem to want to have this law implemented. So, do we say, 'Oh, well, we just won't work with you'? I don't think that's feasible," Salsman said. "We have to figure out a way to work with this current administration, and he has to figure out a way to work with us."